Comics are filled with popular characters, from Batman to Captain America, and they often have the most coverage. I’m interested in shining a spotlight on underrated characters and I’m going to start with one of my top favourites, Namor the Sub-Mariner. Often compared to Aquaman, Namor remains one of Marvel’s oldest characters. He was first created in 1939 by writer and artist Bill Everett in the pages of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly. His name derives from Everett writing down noble sounding names backwards until he settled on the reverse spelling of Roman.
Namor is considered ‘Marvel’s First Mutant’ long before any of the X-Men came along. His status as a mutant was only confirmed during The Illuminati mini series in 2005. He’s also the first documented comic character with the power of flight. Although he has made appearances in animated formats such as Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes he has yet to make his debut on the silver screen. One of the things that make the character so interesting is that he acted as a foil for almost every major character and team in the Marvel Universe. The Fantastic Four are responsible for curing his amnesia and his repeated attempts to steal the Invisible Woman from Mr Fantastic. He fought alongside Captain America and the Invaders during WW2, he teamed up with the Avengers and stood on the side of the X-Men.
Contrary to this is his distaste for the surface world and his desire to protect the people of Atlantis by any means necessary. He’s worked with Doctor Doom and gone to war with Black Panther and Wakanda. Most recently he was killed in Squadron Supreme 1 and has been resurrected in issue 14.
This duality and conflicting traits makes for a compelling character. With all this rich history why is the Sub-Mariner underrated? Although enjoying a lengthy solo series during the Silver Age of comics from 1968 to 74, his last series in 2011 finished less than a year into publication. Some may argue a protagonist is only as good as their supporting cast. Namor has built up a gallery of water themed enemies but little has been done to revive them, save for appearances by Attuma and Tiger Shark.
Namor’s arrogance shines when surrounded by characters he can feed off, such as Bucky Barnes or Cyclops. He’s at his best when his superiority complex takes centre stage. Personally, I’d enjoy seeing another Namor ongoing but can appreciate that he works well when having someone else to play off.
Veteran comic writer, Chris Sims summed up Namor in the best way, and why he is more interesting than Aquaman. (An opinion I share!)
“Namor has a personality that you can describe without ever mentioning that he’s a fish-man with wings on his ankles. He’s a king and he acts like it, he’s got this arrogance and swagger that make him fun to read about. He’s a guy who will show up to fight a monster with the Hulk and Dr. Strange, but also might roll up into New York, punch the Thing through a wall, try to fuck somebody’s wife, and then act like you’re the dick when you call him on it.”
The Sub-Mariner is a character who paved the way for a lot of anti-heroes to thrive. He may not be at the height of popularity but he is certainly enduring. Imperius Rex!
Who is your favourite anti-hero? Do you believe they are more interesting than the more traditional heroic archetype?